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327 posts categorized "Gender issues"

February 27, 2010

Great moments in projection: Olympic edition

Did you know that women are ostensibly banned from Olympic ski jumping due to the governing body's concerns about the well-being of their ovaries?

Gian-Franco Kasper, head of the International Ski Federation, had a pretty explanatory answer:

"Ski jumping is just too dangerous for women. Don't forget, [the landing] it's like jumping down from, let's say, about two meters to the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."

And it only gets worse. The reasons given to Alissa were a bit more in detail:

"So far, we've been told every excuse in the book. That it's too 'dangerous' for girls. That there aren't enough of us. That we're not good enough. That it would damage our ovaries and uterus and we won't be able to have children, even though that's not true. It's so outdated, it's kind of funny in a way. And then it's not." [feministing, via Pandagon]

It’s touching that the gender that totes its gonads around in little bags outside of the body is so solicitous of the gender that keeps its family jewels stowed safely inside the abdomen.

Hockey players act like hockey players, world aghast

If you win an Olympic gold medal in hockey, you get to drink beer, smoke cigars, and drive the Zamboni. It's that simple.  It's probably in the Canadian constitution somewhere.

Yet suddenly, people couldn't recognize a Zamboni have taken it upon themselves to chide the Canadian women's hockey team for celebrating their 2-0 Olympic gold medal victory over the U.S. on the ice--after the fans had left the arena.

Some players wearing their gold medals were chewing on them. Some were drinking champagne. Some were drinking beer or pouring it into teammates' mouths. Some were doing their drinking while smoking cigars, or reclining on the ice and kicking their feet into the air, or honking the Zamboni's horn, or even attempting to drive the ice-resurfacing vehicle.

Canadians seemed to think this was great, an appropriate response to an emotional triumph. But when a reporter asked someone from the International Olympic Committee - an organization renowned for its stuffiness - that official did not. [...]

Steve Keough, a Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) spokesman, said the celebration was "not something uncommon in Canada." [PI]

You know why Canadians thought it was great? Because we see these women as athletes, not novelty fetish items. Athletes do this sort of thing. These particular athletes had just won a gold medal in Canada's favorite sport.

They were entitled to celebrate. The woman who scored both goals, Marie-Philip Poulin, was photographed drinking a beer. Scolds feigned outrage because she's 18 and the drinking age in British Columbia is 19. A guy who scored two goals in a gold medal game would be allowed to savor a beer in peace. The hockey etiquette police are probably unaware that it's traditional to for the winning team to guzzle champagne from the Stanley Cup.

The women didn't set out to cause a scene. They'd been partying in the locker room and they were invited back out onto the ice by photographers who wanted what should have read as cliches: Victorious athletes celebrating. The New York Times blog suggests that the women were posing for personal souvenir shots and didn't even realize that an AP photographer was still in the building.

But because the winners were women, the rest of the world was scandalized by their harmless exuberance. 

February 15, 2010

In defense of Y Tu Mama Tambien, or at least, why Luisa is no Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Amanada argues that Y Tu Mama Tambien is a lousy movie because the character of Luisa is the ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I'm not going to mount an unqualified defense of the film, but I've got to resist that characterization.

The Onion defines the MPDG as a "sentient ray of sunshine sent from heaven to warm the heart and readjust the attitude of even the broodiest, most uptight male protagonist." The MPDG is the free-spirited stock character whose main function is as a psychological tonic or crutch for the nice guy male lead, i.e., the full-fledged human whose fate we're supposed to care about for its own sake. Natalie Portman plays an archetypal MPDG in Garden State.

Onion AV writer Nathan Rabin coined the term to describe Kristen Dunst's character in a scathing review of Elizabethtown:

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.

We feminists roll our eyes at the MPDG character for obvious reasons. It's an annoying form of objectification most commonly perpetrated by male writers who are smugly convinced of their own progressive sensibilities. They think they're better than the guys who leer at pinups, but the MPDG doesn't have any more depth. The MPDG is wish-fulfillment for all those nice guys out there who just want someone conventionally beautiful to see their inner beauty and appreciate their mix tapes. The writer doesn't want you to doubt that the guy totally deserves her--maybe not in the sense of being handsome, successful, or charming. But, see, those are bullshit social norms that are keeping our hero down, which is why he needs a crazy girl to truly appreciate him in ways that shallow cheerleaders cannot. Lazy writers think that if they make the girl a little daft, they can skip the part where they explain what she sees in him. She's whimsical, that's why!

Whatever else you can say about Y Tu Mama, and it's not a flawless movie by any means, Luisa is no MPDG.

NB: If you have not seen this movie and think that you might ever want to do so, stop reading now. Massive spoilers follow.

Here's the basic plot: Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal) are best friends, graduating seniors from Mexico City who find themselves at loose ends when their steady girlfriends leave for a summer in Europe. At a country club wedding, they meet, and are smitten by Luisa (Maribel Verdú), a beautiful woman in her late twenties who is married to Tenoch's even older cousin. In a bid to impress her, they invite her on a road trip to a fictional beach paradise called la Boca del Cielo. She initially blows them off. Later on, in the throes of an existential crisis, she decides she wants to go after all. So, the three of them get in a station wagon and set out for the beach.

One of the things that's bothering Luisa is that her husband recently confessed to being a serial philanderer. Revenge alone would explain why she decides seduce her brother's pissant cousin and his BFF. Again, stop if you don't want to hear the spoiler... We later learn that Luisa decided to leave her husband and take the road trip after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, a fact she never shares with the boys.

Granted, the fact that Luisa's reaction to her diagnosis manifests itself in a desire to sexually educate immature 17-year-olds who love jerkoff jokes should raise our MPDG index of suspicion. But Verdú's performance is rich enough that you never doubt that she's getting off on the whole process. Partly she's rebelling against having been a good girl all her life. Maybe she wants to leave some sort of legacy by giving these guys an initiation they'll never forget. Luisa's character is outwardly charming and free spirited, Verdú's performance still hints at a certain amount of manipulative creepiness that you don't see in a MPDG.

By definition, a MPDG is a foil for a sensitive but misunderstood hero. Tenoch and Julio are neither sensitive nor misunderstood. They're both relatively popular guys who are cheating on their beautiful high school girlfriends. Tenoch and Julio have a few "alternative" pretensions, but they're more budding frat boys than anything else. Luisa doesn't see their inner beauty, she sees them as likable but easily manipulated. They are a means to her self-actualization, not the other way around.

Moreover, their pathetic self-centered horniness is the central joke of the movie. Time and time again, the joke's on them because they assume that Luisa is an MPDG who thinks they're special, only to be disappointed because her desires only sometimes coincide with theirs and because, unlike their girlfriends, she feels no compunctions about bruising their egos. Eventually she lures them into a threeway. The next morning, the boys wake up with horrible hangovers and gay panic. By this point Luisa has already ditched their sorry asses, having gotten exactly what she wanted: A sexy road trip and a ride to a beautiful beach. They never see Luisa again.

If this was a MPDG movie, the caper would have been win-win. But Y Tu Mama shows the episode exacts a real toll in the guys. The boys, who were once as close as brothers, can't face each other again because they're weirded out by having transgressed a macho taboo of actually touching each other--even though we've seen throughout the movie that they're perfectly comfortable jerking off together, sharing sexual fantasies, having sex in the same room (IIRC), and doing basically everything but having sex with each other. At one point, Luisa even sarcastically points out this homoerotic undercurrent in their relationship.

A MPDG character would make these boys into better people, but Tenoch and Julio don't learn anything. In the end, they allow homophobia, jealousy, and class differences to erode their friendship. A MPDG would have given them a special adventure to cherish for the rest of their lives, or at least some kind of lesson to live by. At the end, they still don't get it.

It's only well after Luisa's dead that they realize she didn't just sleep with them because she was a free spirit. She was a dying woman working out psychological issues they never guessed at, and couldn't have grappled with even if they had known.

We're supposed to think that Luisa grasped what was really important and seized it for herself at the end of her life. At the end, she defies convention and dies happy and while the boys are poised to slouch into boring, conventional adulthood.

February 10, 2010

What is the appeal of home birth?

I've never understood why anyone would choose to give birth at home, rather than in a birthing center attached to a hospital. a) Why not go somewhere where you don't have to wash the sheets? b) If there's even a remote chance that you need emergency surgery, why not arrange to be seconds away from an operating room rather than minutes, or longer? 

I know that childbirth isn't a disease. On the other hand, if I had a non-disease where there was a small chance that I'd need emergency surgery within the next 72 hours, I'd prefer to park myself as close to an OR as possible. 

I understand that every woman has the absolute right to make her own decisions about where and how to give birth. I'm not trying to influence anyone else. (Hivemind, be nice to each other, okay?)

Just to reassure people, like my mom, who might be following along at home, this is a purely academic question for me. I ask because Jill & Emjaybee's blog is thought-provoking.

February 03, 2010

There are no homophobes in foxholes: Repeal DADT now

Some (admittedly ridiculous) people say that we shouldn't repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell in wartime. Really, though, what better time to take the decisive step towards justice and equality? In peacetime, homophobes in the military would have plenty of time to obsess about all the terrible things that might happen if the gays were let in.

But if you learn that the person who is entrusted with keeping you alive in a firefight is gay, are you really going to make a big deal about it?

January 24, 2010

Indulging Bart Stupak is literally not an option

Digby writes:

Yes. And I'm guessing [whether House and Senate Dems can pull together and pass a health care reform bill through budget reconciliation] depends upon whether or not pro-choice women (and men) in both houses are going to have the heinous Bart Stupak amendment forced down their throats as part of the reconciliation "fix." I can't see any way that Stupak and his boys will capitulate otherwise and unless they do, this will not pass the House.

What do you suppose the odds are of that happening?

I'd say the odds are bad. Senate rules wouldn't allow the Stup-ification of the health care bill through budget reconciliation.

Compared to the Stupak Amendment to the House health care bill, the Senate bill would impose fewer restrictions on participating private insurers as to what kind of abortion coverage they can offer.

Now that the Democrats have lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the best hope for passing health care reform is to have the House pass the Senate's bill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already made it clear that that can't happen unless the Senate first makes some changes. In order to avoid a filibuster, those changes would have to be approved through budget reconciliation, where they can be passed by a simple majority.

The thing is, you can't just pass any old legislation through budget reconciliation. As the name suggests, only items that mainly affect the budget can be passed that way, i.e., they must "principally affect federal revenues." It would be procedurally straightforward to use reconciliation replace the excise tax on "Cadillac plans" with an income tax on high earners. By the same token, since a strong public option would reduce the deficit, the Senate parliamentarian might deign to let the Senate add a public option through reconciliation.

The Stupak Amendment isn't like that. At its rotten core, the Stupak Amendment is about preventing private insurance companies from selling abortion coverage to private citizens who pay for it with their own money. It has no impact on the budget, or taxes, or the deficit. So, there's no way to buy off Stupak and his cronies through budget reconciliation. Pelosi's going to have to get those votes somewhere else.

October 23, 2009

Shorter Douthat: It's embarassing to be such a bigot

Self-styled social conservative columnist Ross Douthat admits that he's uncomfortable discussing gay marriage in public because he opposes it for no good reason:

The question came from Christopher Glazek, a fact-checker at The New Yorker, who wanted to know whether Mr. Douthat and Mr. Salam believed that former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, who has apologized on behalf of his party for the Southern Strategy, should also apologize for the Republican party's gay politics.

At first Mr. Douthat seemed unable to get a sentence out without interrupting himself and starting over. Then he explained: "I am someone opposed to gay marriage who is deeply uncomfortable arguing the issue in public."

Mr. Douthat indicated that he opposes gay marriage because of his religious beliefs, but that he does not like debating the issue in those terms. At one point he said that, sometimes, he feels like he should either change his mind, or simply resolve never to address the question in public. [NY Obs]

It's understandable that Douthat doesn't like debating the issue in terms of his religious beliefs. Because he always loses to the opponent who says: "Who cares about your religion, Ross? We're talking about the criteria for civil marriage, here."

Ross said he doesn't even bother with the standard secular argument against gay marriage because nobody ever takes takes it seriously:

He added: "The secular arguments against gay marriage, when they aren't just based on bigotry or custom, tend to be abstract in ways that don't find purchase in American political discourse. I say, ‘Institutional support for reproduction,' you say, ‘I love my boyfriend and I want to marry him.' Who wins that debate? You win that debate." [NY Obs]

Ross says the notion doesn't "get traction" because it's too "abstract." Actually, nobody takes this argument seriously because any undergraduate can debunk it with concrete counterexamples from everyday life. Even Ross thinks that sterile opposite-sex couples should be allowed to get married and I'm sure he's aware that some same-sex couples raise children.

It's understandable that Ross is uncomfortable talking about gay marriage in public. He wants the state to impose his religion on other people, but he doesn't want to look like a theocrat in front of the liberal cultural elite.

October 14, 2009

Contrarian Double-X hires sociopath as friendship expert

The self-proclaimed feminist website Double-X shrewdly hired noted sociopath Lucinda Rosenfeld to write its friendship column. This is precisely the kind of fresh, contrarian perspective we've come to expect from the Slate/Double-X brand. 

Double-X racks up a lot of hits by hiring anti-feminists to diagnose the ills of contemporary feminism. Retaining a psychopath as a friendship guru is the logical next step.

Before taking the gig at Double-X, Rosenfeld produced a substantial body of anti-friend literature, including a novel about friends who despise each other (the official website even lets you stick pins in a flash voodoo doll!). She's also the author of How to Dump a Friend (2001) and Our Mutual Friend: how to steal friends and influence people (2004). Clearly, she's perfect for the job.

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October 01, 2009

Cervical cancer vaccine didn't kill U.K. teen

It turns out that the Cervarix cervical cancer vaccine was not responsible for the tragic death of 14-year-old Natalie Morton of Coventry who died earlier this week within two hours of receiving the shot.

An autopsy showed that the young woman died from a previously undiagnosed chest tumor. Doctors said it was an advanced malignant growth that was so far gone that it could have killed her at any moment.

Statistically, if you give a vaccine to enough people, a certain percentage will end up dying within hours, even if the vaccine doesn't kill anyone. Such deaths must be investigated, especially if they happen to young healthy people with no apparent risk of sudden death.

This case is a reminder of the risks of conflating correlation and causation in advance of the facts.

September 24, 2009

Economist suggests reproducing our way out of climate change

Economist Casey Mulligan argues that population control is overrated as a solution to global warming:

The director-general of Unicef has been quoted as saying, “Family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology now available to the human race.” And one of the benefits of reduced population, it is claimed, is reduced carbon emissions and therefore mitigation of climate change.

This statement takes technology for granted, yet technology itself depends on population. [NYT]

Mulligan's argument goes like this: i) only innovation can save us from climate change, and ii) more people equals more innovation, iii) population control would result in fewer people, therefore population control is bad for climate change.

Mulligan's first premise is dubious. The consensus at yesterday's UN Summit on Climate Change was that we already know how to prevent climate change but lack the political will to act. But let's grant Mulligan his first premise for the sake of argument.

The second premise is where Mulligan's argument founders. A larger population doesn't automatically translate into greater innovation. The two are probably correlated: The more humans there are, the more likely one of them will be the next Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, or Norman Borlaug.

The real question, though, is whether a larger population would generate enough additional innovation to offset the extra resources required to sustain it. Mulligan gives us no reason to think so.

More importantly, the innovators of tomorrow need to be educated and nurtured. Yet the most explosive population growth is taking place in the world's poorest communities. When resources are very scarce, rapid population growth may stifle innovation.

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